Alyssa Goodman: The Visualization of Astronomical Information: From Galileo to the Zooniverse

Presentation Date: 

Monday, April 21, 2014


Benjamin Dean Lecture: California Academy of Science, San Francisco, CA


In 1610, when Galileo pointed his small telescope at Jupiter, he drew sketches to record what he saw. After just a few nights of observing, he understood his sketches to be showing moons orbiting Jupiter. It was the visualization of Galileo’s observations that led to his understanding of a clearly Sun-centered solar system, and to the revolution this understanding then caused. Similar stories can be found throughout the history of Astronomy, but visualization has never been so essential as it is today, when we find ourselves blessed with a larger wealth and diversity of data, per astronomer, than ever in the past.

Using amazing new, and often free, software tools, we can immerse ourselves in data about the Universe. In a literal "immersion" setting, we can see data describing our Universe all around us on the "sky' of the Morrison Planetarium. In research, we can connect visualization, data mining, and statistical tools to each other in order to discover and understand new phenomena. In education, we can change the way we learn about the the Universe by offering learners "real" data in rich, multimedia environments on desktop, touchscreen, and mobile computers. We can even use novel interfaces and gaming systems to let users interact with data, and the Universe, using whole body. Goodman will demonstrate the full power visualization brings to this range of endeavors, using examples spanning everything from a free, rich, "Universe Information System" from Microsoft Research (WorldWide Telescope program), to a NASA-sponsored system for understanding the 3D data that the James Webb Space Telescope will send to Earth ("Glue"), to the Zooniverse, where hundreds of thousands of citizens join scientists in their quest to understand the Universe using "big data."

Presentation Files: (key, 632 MB), (pdf, 49 MB)